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Hanukkah (sometimes known as Chanukah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights and is celebrated over eight days. It usually falls in late November or December.

The Jewish community commemorates ‘The Miracle of the Oil’ by burning a Menorah over the period of Hanukkah. The Menorah holds nine candles including the helper candle (shamash); this is used to light the other eight candles.

More than 2,000 years ago, Tthe story of Hanukkah began, when a King named Antiochus Epiphanes ruled the Greek-Syrian Kingdom and banned all Jewish rituals and traditions. The King tried to make the Jewish people pray to Greek Gods and bow down in front of his own statue which he placed in the Jewish temple.

A small group of Jews -the Maccabees - fought back and defeated Antiochus Epiphanes, but their temple was destroyed. They repaired and cleaned the temple lighting an oil lamp to rededicate it to their own god. There was only enough oil to burn the lamp for one day, but - to their surprise - the same jug of sacred oil burned for eight more nights. This became known as the Miracle of the Oil; it is the reason why the festival of Hanukkah lasts for eight days and why candle lighting is such an important part of the celebrations.

Interesting facts about Hanukkah

  • Gift giving wasn’t originally part of the holiday, but children were given gelt (chocolate coins) money as incentive for studying the Torah. Gifts were added because the holiday is close to Christmas.
  • Much of the food celebrated at Hanukkah is fried to celebrate the Miracle of the Oil. This includes apple fritters, latkes and jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot.
  • Because the word Hanukkah is a Hebrew word, it can be translated into English in lots of different ways. There are actually more than 24 different spellings of Hanukkah in English!

Craft activities for children with vision impairment

Home-made Menorah candles

Young children and naked flames are never a good combination, so here are some safe ways for children with vision impairment to make and enjoy their own versions of the candles on the Menorah.

Remember to always make the centre candle taller than the others, to represent the shamash, or ‘helper’, which is used to light the other candles.

Colourful cardboard

Collect nine cardboard tubes from either toilet paper or paper towel rolls for this activity.

Remove any pieces of tissue from the rolls and paint or colour them in. Blue and white is the traditional colour of Menorah candles but use any colour that appeals to your child.

An alternative to using paint is to wrap the rolls in tissue paper – the sound and texture will provide extra sensory appeal for a child with VI.

The ‘flame’ of the candle can be made from yellow or gold coloured card cut into a teardrop shape and glued to the top of the cardboard tubes. Some children will need support using scissors and cutting the correct shape. Again, adding sequins, gems or other light-reflecting decorations to the flame will help a child with limited vision enjoy their work more – and make your candles sparkle!

Marvellous macaroni

You’ll need a board or thick piece of card to attach your candles to for this activity, which not only makes a lovely tactile version of the Menorah but also gives the opportunity to practice manipulation, sorting and other fine motor skills.

Take some pieces of red or orange crepe or tissue paper and roll them using fingers and palms until they are long and thin enough to fit inside some macaroni pasta shapes (the number of macaroni pieces you use will depend on how tall you want your candles to be). Gently pull a little piece of the paper out of the top piece of macaroni and form into a teardrop shape for the ‘flame’.

Glue the ‘candles’ onto the card (clear drying craft glue works best). If you’re feeling really creative, you could explore the cupboard for other dried foods (different pasta shapes, dry lentils, cereal loops and so on) to make the Menorah shape itself. A child with vision impairment may need help deciding where to glue the different pieces so why not apply glue to the card in the shape of the Menorah beneath the candles for the child to explore, using fingers, before attaching shapes to the sticky areas? Messy but fun!

Wiggly wool

This is a great activity to keep little hands busy and is perfect for younger children or those developing their fine motor skills.

Take nine thick craft/lollipop sticks and a selection of coloured wool, cut into small pieces of around 30cm in length. Allow your child to choose any pieces of wool they like and, starting at the top, wrap the wool tightly round the craft stick, working down to the bottom (this is a great opportunity to reinforce positional vocabulary – top, bottom, up, down, front, back etc). The pieces can be secured by tucking in the ends. Use as much or as little wool per ‘candle’ as they like – each one will be unique.

Attach the candles to a strong piece of card or plain cardboard using PVA glue. Use pieces of coloured card, foam shapes or tissue paper to make the flames and, if they are able, encourage your child to place these themselves by feeling for the top of each ‘candle’ and orienting the shape into the correct position before gluing in place.

Some other quick suggestions for making Menorah candles:

  • Pinchy pegs: decorate wooden clothes pegs, add flame shapes and attach each candle to a cardboard Menorah – great for developing that pinchy pincer grip!
  • Crisp cotton wool: dip pieces of stretched cotton wool and cotton wool balls in poster paint. Once dry, they make brightly coloured, wonderfully tactile candles.
  • Leftover LEGO: build candles from the base plate upwards, using whatever bricks and other surplus pieces you have in your LEGO box. If you don’t like what you make on your first go, just dismantle your candle and start again!

Remember that small parts can present a choking hazard and some children will need to be supervised when completing these activities.

We would love parents and carers to share their thoughts and feedback on these activities via our Parents and Carers Facebook Group. Let us know your family's favourite traditions and how you celebrate!

If you would like to see a particular celebration included here, email us.